“The Path to the Championship: How the Finalists from Each State Reached the Huddle”

Welcome back to our group, The Huddle!

The 2023 N.C. High School Athletic Association state championships have arrived after a lengthy season.

What makes this year’s championships so thrilling is that nearly half of the eight finalists were unexpected choices and weren’t predicted to reach this stage in the preseason.

Several teams have returned to the state championship after a long absence. Hickory is making their first appearance since 1996, while Hoggard’s last appearance was in 2007. Seventy-First was last in the finals in 2008 and Clinton is back for the first time since 2014.

This is the path each team took to reach the final game.

First and Ten: The Teams of Mount Airy and Tarboro Meet Again After Destiny Brings Them Together.

The 1A state championship game showcases the anticipated matchup that was predicted at halftime of last year’s championship game. Both the Granite Bears and Vikings have retained key players from their prior successful seasons, with the Bears winning the title and the Vikings placing as the runner-up.

The road to the playoffs was not without its challenges for both teams.

Mount Airy had to make a journey of more than four hours and cover a distance of over 250 miles to reach the regional final against Robbinsville. Like the previous week, the Granite Bears were trailing at halftime. However, this time it was not as effortless for them to turn things around and dominate in the second half.

A fumble by Mount Airy resulted in a touchdown for the Black Knights’ Chase Calhoun. Following a two-point conversion by Robbinsville’s record-breaking rusher Cuttler Adams, Robbinsville held a 16-14 lead with five minutes remaining in the third quarter.

After that, the Granite Bars’ offense was able to retaliate with two field goals from Walker Stroup and a rushing touchdown by Ian Gallimore.

The Granite Bears emerged victorious with a score of 27-16. During the previous playoffs, Mount Airy’s narrowest margin of victory leading up to the state championship was 18 points. Nonetheless, the Bears successfully limited Adams to just 57 rushing yards, a significantly lower number compared to many other teams.

Tarboro had a smoother experience compared to Mount Airy in the regional final, following some difficulties in the previous week’s fourth round. The Vikings’ 20-13 triumph against East Bladen in the fourth round marked their narrowest playoff success since 2016.

In the 1A East final of this year, Tarboro dominated over a strong West Columbus team with a score of 49-12. This outcome was unexpected for those who adhere to the transitive property in sports. Previously, West Columbus had defeated East Bladen with a score of 24-8 during the season.

In the game, the Vikings’ second-year players Caiden Everette and Kamerin McDowell-Moore worked together to accumulate 206 yards rushing and score three touchdowns.

Tarboro may have an advantage in the game if they have a less demanding trip and a regional final competition.

The second play of the game will feature a first-time match-up between Reidsville and Clinton in the State Championship.

Reidsville High School and Clinton High School have competed in a total of 39 championship games over the years, but they have never faced each other in the finals. This streak will come to an end on Saturday when the two teams go head-to-head. Reidsville holds the record for most state championships won, while Clinton has earned five state titles, a commendable achievement.

Unfortunately, Reidsville lost in the 2A state championship last year to East Duplin, coming up short by only three points.

Despite facing major injuries, both teams have managed to make it this far.

Reidsville’s Rams faced a setback when their primary running back, Jeremiah Redd, suffered a knee ligament injury during a summer practice. In the beginning of the season, Reidsville had to play without their top two receivers, Que’Shyne Flippen and Dionte Neal. They also had to make do without their star linebacker, Paul Widerman, for a period of time.

Despite facing challenges, Reidsville managed to withstand the difficulties and only suffered one defeat in a non-conference game (against a 3A school in Eastern Alamance). The victories achieved despite injuries secured Reidsville the top spot in the region. The advantage of playing at home aided the team in returning to the state championship game.

Currently, Reidsville seems to be performing at its best. The team had a strong performance of 49-14 against Shelby in the 2A West final, securing their spot in the title game. This victory also served as a form of revenge for the Reidsville seniors who were eliminated by Shelby in the fourth round two years ago when they were sophomores.

However, Clinton faced a difficult injury during the second half of the season.

During the second round of the playoffs, Josiah McLaurin, the star running back and wide receiver for the Dark Horses, sustained a foot injury after an awkward landing. Unfortunately, this resulted in the end of his season. Prior to the injury, McLaurin had an impressive record of 1,170 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns, as well as 509 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

Clinton successfully substituted McLaurin with more offensive responsibilities for senior 4-star defensive line recruit Amaris Williams and junior running back Josiah Robinson.

Williams, standing at 6 feet and 3 inches tall and weighing 265 pounds, was a dominant force in Clinton’s 36-22 victory against Northeastern in the 2A East final. He carried the ball almost 25 times and scored four touchdowns during the game. Northeastern struggled to bring him down, unable to effectively tackle him. During the regular season, Williams only ran the ball around 25 times.

Robinson proved to be a valuable player as well. He made a 50-yard touchdown run, securing the win for the Eagles.

The upcoming Hickory vs. Seventy-First game is sure to produce a new champion. This will be the third time these teams have faced each other.

In the 2023 3A championship, two football teams that have not won a title in a while will compete against each other.

In the 2000s, Hickory had Ryan Succop, a highly skilled kicker who was selected for the Pro Bowl. However, despite this impressive player, Hickory has only reached one state championship game in its past: the 1996 3A state championship. In this game, the Red Tornadoes emerged victorious with a score of 42-0 against Ragsdale.

The Seventy-First team was victorious in three successive championships during the 1970s and 1980s, and later in 2008. However, the Falcons have not returned to the championship since then.

This indicates that a new 3A champion will emerge. Although these teams may seem new this year, next year’s final could have a different feel as both Hickory and Seventy-First have many junior players.

Hickory’s offense has been incredibly dynamic this entire season, leaving opponents in awe. The team boasts a talented quarterback in Brady Stober, who has thrown an astounding 47 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. In addition, the Red Tornadoes have a strong rushing game led by Isaiah Lackey, who has racked up 1,797 yards and 33 touchdowns.

Seventy-First’s run-focused offense has been impressive. The team has three players who have each rushed for over 1,400 yards, all of whom are either juniors or younger. Their star quarterback DeAndre Nance has scored a total of 54 touchdowns in his junior season. Donavan Frederick, a formidable running back and linebacker, plays with an intense energy.

This season, the defenses have shown periods of domination but have faced challenges in the playoffs. Seventy-First gave up 27 points to Southern Alamance, who has a distinct offensive approach that is unfamiliar in Fayetteville. Northern Nash scored 36 points with their talented players spread out on the field, which will be similar to Hickory’s strategy.

The Weddington-Hoggard Matchup is defined by similarities in their rosters on 4th Down.

During the 4A state championship game, the two contenders have followed comparable paths to reach the final match. Each team has previously claimed a state championship title. They have also both suffered a loss in a non-conference game early in the season. In the regional final, they both dominated their opponent, who had just come off a tight victory against a rival team in the previous round. Furthermore, both teams have a seasoned and stable coaching staff, while other schools in the vicinity have undergone some changes.

However, the most notable commonality among these teams is their lineup of players. Each team follows a typical structure – a tall quarterback, large players on the line, powerful running backs and linebackers, and skilled athletes on the perimeter. The Vikings and Warriors both possess a noticeable level of physicality in their gameplay.

Weddington suffered a defeat to their rival Marvin Ridge in their last regular season game, with a final score of 24-21. However, they have bounced back impressively since then. In the first and third rounds, the Warriors easily defeated Providence and Charlotte Catholic, and in the second round, they managed to hold off a strong Chambers team with a close score of 14-10. In the last two rounds, Weddington has dominated their opponents Grimsley and Independence, scoring a total of 78 points while only allowing 41.

Hoggard has been performing well in the postseason too. The Vikings have defeated their opponents by a margin of at least 16 points in all their playoff games, including some strong playoff teams.

This battle is going to be a feast for folks who enjoy savvy and commanding quarterback play. Weddington’s Tyler Budge is a Georgia Southern commit and Hoggard’s Hudson Wilharm is currently weighing the opportunities. Both are smart players and have big arms that can put the ball deep down the field and make accurate throws in the tightest windows.

All players will be facing pressure. Weddington’s defense includes highly skilled players such as the Harris twins, who are both sophomores. Hoggard’s defense has a dominant edge rusher in Malakahi West, who was named an HSOT All-State player.

Quick Hits

  • A common thread among all of the state finalists is the consistency of their coaching staff.

  • Andy Capone has surpassed Tim Carson to become the all-time leader in wins at Weddington. After leading the Warriors to victory against Independence, Capone’s record stands at 76 wins and 8 losses over the course of six seasons.

  • Tyler Mason has surpassed Anthony Moore as Mount Airy’s top rusher with a record-breaking 5,877 yards. Moore previously held the record with 5,803 yards.

  • Some coaching changing speculation on my part: If a premier head coaching job in the 910 (at a place like Richmond) opened up, I would think that Clinton head coach Cory Johnson would be a top target for that school. He’s done a good job turning the smaller 910 program back into a contender and could do the same for Richmond. Johnson has a championship to win this weekend before he would respond to any theoretical interview requests, though.

Source: highschoolot.com